If Tuesday's championship game between Valparaiso and Wright State is anything like the semifinals that got the two teams there, the Horizon League Tournament finale is going to be a good one.
Both teams got buzzer-beaters Saturday night to keep their hopes of making the NCAA Tournament alive: Wright State got a midrange jumper from Miles Young as they knocked off Detroit, 59-57, while top-seeded Valpo was dangerously close to getting knocked out of the tournament, but Ryan Broekhoff hit an insane fadeaway three-pointer with a pair of defenders in his face to secure a 70-69 win. It's March Madness come slightly early, and there's still one game left.
The consequences are clear: this is beyond all doubt a one-team league, so the winner takes the trophy and gets a trip to the NCAA Tournament, while the loser sits at home.
9 p.m., ESPN: No. 3 Wright State Raiders (21-11, 10-6 Horizon, Kenpom ranking 119) vs. No. 1 Valparaiso Crusaders (25-7, 13-3 Horizon, Kenpom 67)
This game puts the league's best offense in Valparaiso against the league's best defense in Wright State. But there's a weakness in the Raiders: on the inside, something Valpo big man Kevin Van Wijk was able to exploit in a pair of regular season wins.
Van Wijk is the guiding force behind a team that has the fifth-best two-point shooting percentage in the country. The 6'8 senior is the most effective big Valpo has, and against a Raiders squad that doesn't particularly defend in the paint well, he should go off: Van Wijk draws 6.8 fouls per 40 minutes, Wright State has the 318th-best defensive foul rate in the nation. Van Wijk shoots a ridiculous 64.5 percent from the field, Wright State is bad at contesting shots against bigs, blocking only 6.5 percent of opposing shots, the 219th best figure in the country. He responded appropriately in two matchups against Wright State, leading his team with 20 and 18 points in the two games in the season series.
We've already talked about how Wright State isn't good on the inside, but that doesn't mean they're bad defensively. In fact, they thrive on defense, allowing just 92.8 points per 100 possessions in conference play, the best in the Horizon League. They do a good job of contesting threes and forces a lot of turnovers, getting opponents to cough up the ball on 24.4 percent of possessions, the 16th best percentage in the country. That could spell trouble for guys like Valparaiso's Erik Buggs, who averages 2.4 turnovers a game.
It seems the question isn't whether Van Wijk can beat Wright State if he gets the ball - he's already done it twice - but whether or not the Crusaders can get it to him. If they can, they might have a trip to the NCAA Tournament - their first under Bryce Drew since the former Valpo star came back as coach.